Why does the person who caused my pain have any place at the finish line of the emotional work I was forced to do because of their offense?
I reject the idea that in order to be emotionally healthy and free, I have to forgive people who have deeply wounded me.
It is important to note this is not the case for those I love or who play active roles in my life. I work through challenges in those relationships with vigor, dedication, and by setting boundaries.
All of my life I’ve been told to forgive. The recovering Pentecostal in me learned that Christ forgave me, so I must forgive others. It’s part of the circle of grace. Notice I said recovering Pentecostal. I no longer consider myself a Christian, nor follow this path that at one time I studied with a passion.
The circle goes something like this: First I decide to forgive. Then I work through the residual pain left by the offender. Finally, if I worked hard enough and got rid of the emotional junk they gave me, I could arrive at the state of forgiveness. Rinse and repeat for as long as I live.
This was the model I studied extensively and tried my hardest to perfect. It never felt right or syncopated with my own self-worth. It actually felt Stockholm Syndrome-ish and made me feel more like a victim than powerful. I was constantly wailing and pleading with my emotional self to forgive people. I never got there and for years it made me doubt my own salvation.
It also seemed like a ton of ill placed work. Why does the person who caused my pain have any place at the finish line of the emotional work I was forced to do because of their offense? Don’t they have their own work to do? Why must I participate in their absolution? If emotion and pain energetically tied me to my transgressors, then as a part of my self- care can’t I intentionally disconnect that bond and opt out of that process altogether?
Forgiveness is directly tied to the story of our need for salvation—a system that says we can’t get into heaven unless Christ forgives us of our sins. It says we must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. And being born again is achieved by forgiveness of our sins. I know this is the deeply held belief of millions of people and I respect their right to believe this. However, if I no longer believe in a place called heaven, or the need for salvation, then forgiveness tied to Christ’s sacrifice is a process I can abandon or reinterpret, right?
Long story short, I have found a path that resonates with me in a way that no amount of Bible College, studying, praying, or fasting ever did.
I understand the need to work through my own stuff. I’m a huge advocate for deep emotional work so I can live my most inspired and awesome life. But that needs to be the sole reason for my work. The person who caused the pain shouldn’t be a factor in my healing process.
I also let go of this compulsion to be the bigger person. There is no prize for being a moral giant and looking the other way. I’m not interested in looking down my nose at others who have hurt me. I simply want to walk on my own path and understand why this situation appeared in my life. I want to be self-centered with my healing and create boundaries built solely by self-worth and self-love. I don’t want the absolution of the other person to have any part in that process.
So I stopped forgiving people. Because no matter how many times I tell myself that my forgiving someone was not about helping them feel better but to help myself gain freedom, it never felt that way. It felt weak. It felt co-dependent, and like I was being made to care for the person who hurt me.
Instead I chose to listen to my own intuition and tap into my own power to heal myself. So if I am owning this journey, then I choose to stop forgiving and start releasing people and situations instead. I take my power back and decide they no longer have to be a factor in my process.
So what does that process look like?
First, I released the burden of forgiveness as something I needed to accomplish. I released the people who I have held captive in that process. I released the men who raped me. I released friends who betrayed me and lovers who wounded me. I released them to work their own stuff out. I released the power they have held over my mind, my emotions, my relationships, my self- worth, and my future.
My focus then became releasing healing over my life. Through the years, I have successfully worked through my childhood pain. I have cried the tears that became my healing balm. I have done the painful work of self-discovery and boundary-setting.
When I decided to honor my own truth, I felt years of guilt and pounds of emotional baggage melt away. That is how I know that forgiving those who hurt me was no longer my burden or responsibility. Releasing them was pure self-love.
I realize that this may not ring true for many of those who will read this. I know it contradicts so much of what you have been taught. But if you have also struggled with forgiveness, give yourself permission to question what you have been taught and find a truth that resonates with you. Your higher power, however you define that concept, wants you to live in emotional abundance and not chained to those who have wounded you. I encourage you to explore your own truth and define your own power.
Michelle Dowell-Vest is an Author, Podcast Producer, and Speaker focused on conversations of healing ourselves, our community, and our world. Her work can be found on her website, MichelleDowellVest.com, and has been featured in various places including Amazon’s Best Seller list, and as a coveted Voice Of The Year with BlogHer.com/SheKnows Media. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.